Henrietta Anne Heathorn met Thomas Henry Huxley, then an assistant surgeon and part-time naturalist on HMS Rattlesnake, in Australia in 1847. A dance at the Governor's Ball was followed by an eight-year engagement stretched between Sydney and London. The couple finally married after Huxley achieved the relatively new status of scientist when he was appointed Professor at the Royal Institution in London. Thus the daughter of a somewhat raffish early 19th-century adventurer became one of the pillars of Victorian intellectual life. Henrietta - affectionately known as 'Nettie' - had a strange upbringing. Her father disappeared on business trips, leaving the family to sell the silver to survive, and she was sent to a Moravian school in Germany. She then moved to Australia to keep house for one of her half-sisters (and discovered only many years later why her half-sisters referred to her as 'It'). Her marriage to one of the intellectual radicals of the day, later to become President of the Royal Society and a Privy Counsellor, was to cause unforeseen difficulties.
Huxley sprang to prominence after the publication in 1859 of Darwin's On the Origin of Species led to his famous exchange with the Bishop of Oxford at the British Association. The argument generated so much emotion that one of the participants fainted, and Huxley soon became known as 'Darwin's Bulldog'. His views might appear to conflict, therefore, with Nettie's Moravian upbringing, but the couple worked hard towards finding a compromise. Huxley coined the term 'agnostic' to describe his position and was always open to debate and to new evidence. Nettie, too, allowed her own beliefs to evolve, abandoning the idea of original sin and exemplifying in her own life the ways in which a Christian reconciliation with the new ideas might work. Vividly brought to life in these pages is convict-era Australia, as well as the 'tall teas' held for the elite of the day in her house in St John's Wood by the much-loved and
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(248mm x 172mm x 10mm)
Phillimore & Co Ltd
Publisher: The History Press Ltd
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